A new campaign by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, a division of the US Department of Transportation, encourages parents and other caregivers to make sure they don’t leave young children in their cars during the hot spring and summer months. As a press release by the NHTSA explains, the “Look Before You Lock” initiative coincided with National Heatstroke Prevention Day on May 1st.
Noting that the risk of heatstroke deaths increases when parents and caregivers change their routines, the NHTSA offers a few reminders to ensure that these risks are prevented. Drivers should ensure that vehicles are locked even when they’re not in use; this helps prevent other children in the area from getting into them. Parents and caregivers are also urged never to leave children alone in a car, even just for a short amount of time. As the NHTSA stresses, leaving a window cracked open “does little to keep a vehicle cool,” children can suffer heatstroke “even on a relatively cool day,” and vehicles can get dangerously hot “in as little as ten minutes.”
The agency also recommends parents use little tricks to make sure they don’t forget that there’s a child in the backseat, like keeping their purse or phone in the backseat alongside the child, or keeping one of the child’s toy in the front of the car to remind them that the child is in the back. Finally, the NHTSA urges everyone to call 911 for help if they see a distressed youngster in a car.
In a statement about the “Look Before You Lock” campaign, NHTSA Deputy Administrator Dr. Steven Cliff said, “An average of 38 children die from heatstroke in hot vehicles each year. Many deaths happen because the morning routine is different – for example, a caregiver taking a child to daycare who typically doesn’t do the drop of. We are asking all caregivers to look before they lock because changes in daily routines can lead to tragedy in just minutes.”
Recent news reports from around the country further illustrate the danger of leaving children—as well as pets—in hot cars. A report by WESH, an NBC affiliate in Florida, described the tragic story of a 1-year-old boy who died after being “left in a car for seven hours by a caregiver. In South Carolina, a report by WCBD reminded motorists that heatstroke can occur even on days that aren’t especially hot. “A car can heat up 19 degrees in 10 minutes, and cracking a window doesn’t help,” the director of Safe Kids South Carolina told WCBD. “Heatstroke can happen anytime, anywhere. We don’t want to see this happen to any family, or any child. That’s why [the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control] is asking everyone to help protect kids from this very preventable tragedy by never leaving a child alone in a car, not even for a minute.”